Ignorance isn't really bliss - Keith Roulston editorial
There’s an old saying that, “Ignorance is bliss”, and sometimes that seems especially true. The current situation in international news proves the point.
Recently, the news that 41 people had drowned and only four people lived to tell the tale after a boat carrying desperate migrants sank off Tunisia barely made the news in Canada. The four survivors were protected from harm because they were kept afloat by inflated inner tubes.
As shocking as that news was, what made the information worse was the news that the latest victims were among more than 1,000 refugees who have perished this year alone on the Mediterranean as people seek desperately to reach Europe, escaping the warfare and hunger in northern Africa.
We are generally isolated from these horrifying realities by our ignorance of the harsh lives people suffer through in other parts of the world.
Closer to home, a three-year-old refugee whose family had successfully crossed the U.S. border from Mexico died on a bus taking the family and others from Texas to Chicago. The Texas government has been busing these people to liberal areas like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York as a sort of revenge. “Here, let you liberals have a taste of putting up with the problem.”
There’s something about these migrants that makes some see them as not “people” like us whose lives matter, but somehow human beings seeking to “steal” safety in a peaceful country.
We don’t want to hear this news, but one in 10 people on the planet is undernourished. That’s roughly 800 million people who don’t have enough food. In 2021, 193 million people were in need of “urgent food assistance”. If that population were a country, it would be the eighth-largest in the world.
Meanwhile, Canadians complain about the high cost of food, for many the rising cost robbing them of money they’d prefer to spend on a vacation in one of those “fortunate” countries on the Caribbean Islands or South America which are the source of many of the refugees desperate to cross the Rio Grande River into the U.S.
We seem to have established a “them” and “us” world in which “they” are the danger. However, it’s our thoughtless lifestyle of piling up as much material success as possible, despite the danger that may mean for the climate, that’s being treated as something to celebrate. And those who want to escape the misery of living in a less fortunate part of the world are an enemy the way many of us see it.
But, of course, those migrants crossing the Mexican/U.S. border fill important jobs in the U.S. that Americans don’t want to do, such as working in packing plants and in orchards producing a surplus of food that we complain is too expensive. Similarly, here in Canada, we have people working in greenhouses, pig farms and growing vegetables who are allowed into Canada from the Caribbean for a few months at a time, while their families remain at home.
What are the lives of the migrants like? A taste of that life is available in the movie The Swimmers, still available on Netflix. It tells the story of real-life teenage sisters Nathalie Issa and Manal Issa. The girls are swimming stars in Syria and when Syria faces civil war they are not permitted to try for the Olympic team. Their father opens the door for them to escape to Europe by paying the fees demanded by smugglers to get them into Europe. When the boat taking them across the Aegean Sea from İzmir towards Lesbos begins sinking because it is overloaded, the sisters get into the water and swim beside the boat, lightening it so that they help 18 refugees to reach shore safely. Their subsequent struggles as refugees are vividly depicted, but Nathalie Issa’s swimming career sees her reaching the Rio 2016 Olympics as a member of the Refugee Olympic Team.
Dramatic as this movie is, and dangerous as it was for the sisters, they at least started out from a prosperous lifestyle. Most of the refugees from Africa or at the U.S. border started with far less, and many of them paid dearly for the gangs that helped them cross to a more prosperous part of the world.
Aside from those left living on the streets, the vast majority of Canadians are wealthy by comparison. When we complain about what we want but can’t afford, we must seem impossibly selfish by comparison. When we have to import people to work on jobs that we turn our backs on (while leaving their families at home for months), we must seem impossibly rich. And these aren’t even the starving people.
We need to put ourselves in perspective - to realize that we are incredibly prosperous to the point of being wasteful, while 800 million people in other parts of the world don’t even have enough food to eat.